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October 10, 2012

Unemployment coming down slowly

Unemployment coming down slowly

Des Plaines posted the biggest job gains among the northern suburbs

September 06, 2012|By John P. Huston and Joseph Ryan, Chicago Tribune reporter

A sign alerts employment seekers where to go for a job fair hosted by Catalyst Career Group at Embassy Suites in Lombard on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (Keri Wiginton, Chicago Tribune)

When Michelle Wilkes decided to re-enter the workforce earlier this year, she knew the jobmarket would be difficult. She threw herself into the networking process, expecting a challenging search.

She was surprised by how easy it was — it took her two months.

“I was still kind of in the investigation mode of, ‘What should I apply for?'” said Wilkes, of Lake Zurich, who took a sales and account management job at a small Evanston company. “I was almost a little sad I didn’t get the chance to do more” searching.

Two months is not the norm, but state statistics in the north and near-northwest suburbs show unemployment has decreased from 2010. However, numbers have yet to return to their pre-recession figures in 2008.

Jan Leahy, executive director of Career Resource Center in Lake Forest, said the jobsmarket is starting to ease up and people are beginning to find employment more frequently. But things aren’t exactly rosy, according to Leahy.

“It’s still really tough out there,” said Leahy, whose organization counsels about 1,000 job-seekers each year, predominantly from the north suburbs.

A sampling of local unemployment figures for July, the latest available information, found rates varied from 6.6 percent in Highland Park and Wilmette to 9.1 percent in Mundelein.

Des Plaines posted the biggest gains among suburbs in north and near-northwest Cook County and in Lake County over the past two years, moving from 10.2 in July 2010 to 8.4 this July.

Des Plaines City Manager Michael Bartholomew chalked part of the decline to the opening of a new casino last year, which created 1,400 new jobs and possibly helped the local housing market, as well.

“When those employees are looking for a new home near work they’re going to look here in Des Plaines,” Bartholomew said.

For comparison, the state’s rate in July was 9.3 percent, while nationally unemployment was 8.6 percent. In July 2008, before the full force of the recession was felt, the national unemployment level was at 6.8 percent.

The unemployment rate measures those who are out of work and actively seeking employment. It is not tied to the number of people collecting unemployment insurance benefits.

The recession was “so broad and so deep” that it hurt every sector of the economy, said Greg Rivara, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Yet, each sector is now recovering at different speeds, leading to an unequal comeback across suburbs.

“There are some communities that fare better or worse than other parts of the state, primarily because of the job sectors” where residents work, Rivara said.

In Chicago’s north and near-northwest suburbs, several observers of the jobs market noted a recent trend of companies hiring temporary contract employees — many of whom formerly pulled in six-figure salaries as middle- and upper-level managers.

Chris Campbell, executive director Executive Network Group of Greater Chicago, said while members of his organization have seen a decrease in people landing permanent jobs this year, there have been more taking temporary jobs.

“I think the reality is that companies are reluctant to — given the amount of downsizing that’s been going on — to bring up their workforce again,” Campbell said.

Jim Rogers, of Human Capital Management Partners in Deerfield, works with interim talent in the human resources field.

“This is one of the ways that businesses are getting their work done,” Rogers said. “I think businesses have money. The large companies are doing well, by and large, financially, if you look at some of the results. But they’re holding up on hiring, and yet the work has to get done.”

One gauge for the economy is community colleges, where adults prepare for a mid-life career change, or where recent high school graduates opt for a cheaper way to fulfill college credits before turning to four-year institutions.

“There is a general truism for community colleges in that our enrollment tends to go up when the economy goes south. And indeed that happened for us,” Evelyn Schiele, executive director of public relations and marketing at College of Lake County.

From 2003-08, the school’s enrollment hovered around 16,000 students, Schiele said. Then the recession hit, and in fall 2009 that number shot up to 18,092.

“That’s a big jump for us,” she said.

It stayed at that level for another year before falling to 17,413 students last year — about where it will be this year, Schiele said.

It took Barbara Granner, of Evanston, more than a year to land a job. She’d been working as a freelance writer after she dropped out of the full-time workforce 14 years ago to raise her daughter. Last year, she began looking for a permanent job.

“I would say the whole thing was more difficult than I expected,” Granner said. “Intellectually I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to be such a challenge to my self-esteem.”

After looking for more than a year, she recently landed a communications job at a Northbrook medical organization.


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